Islamicate motifs in ceramics recovered from archaeological sites in the Philippines

Andrea Natasha E. Kintanar (
Archaeological Studies Program, University of the Philippines, Diliman
June, 2015
A Master of Arts graduate of the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies
Program (UP-ASP Currently, I am a Senior Lecturer, teaching Introduction to Archaeology to undergraduates, at the same university. Besides working as a lecturer, I also manage a non-profit organization I co-founded with my colleagues. It is called Tuklas (Filipino word for "Discover"), which aims to spread heritage literacy and cultural consciousness in the Philippines, through Public Archaeology and alternative education. Working on that has made me more passionate towards spreading cultural consciousness in rural communities. I also work as a Campaigns Director for a human rights NGO called, Dakila.


The Philippine archipelago had been part of Southeast Asian maritime culture as early as the Neolithic period, evidenced by archaeological finds. Consequently early Chinese records show that the Philippines was part of maritime trade as early as the 4th century C.E. Although shipwrecks were discovered in what is currently considered as Philippine seas, a question of whether or not the cargo was bound for Philippine land had always been asked and the answer is often that the archipelago was a crossroads, and therefore not the intended end-users of the cargoes. In this thesis, the concept of the Philippines being a crossroads or entrepôt is being challenged by investigating a specific trade good: ceramics. The Lena Shoal and Sta. Cruz wrecks, for example carried large proportions of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, reportedly decorated with Islamic designs.
With the term ‘Islamic motifs’ now being considered as a misnomer by some archaeologists and historians, this thesis proposes a more apt term—‘Islamicate.’ To properly identify what is Definitely Islamicate, Quasi Islamicate, and Not Islamicate the researcher formulated a set of criteria which includes studying the design elements and degree of decoration, form, and size. Using the criteria on underwater and terrestrial sites, it was discovered that there is a low occurrence of 15th century blue-and-white wares in land sites which have Definitely Islamicate motifs. The thesis was able to infer that the absence is due to a factor of time and the nature of trade being carried out in the Philippines during the 15th century C.E.